"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

TRULY EXCELLENT WRITING: The Ghosts of Ponce De Leon Park by Fred Willard

Part Two

How Sears transformed the retail scene in Atlanta

When it came down to it, Del didn't know jack-shit about Bob. He thought Bob could just as easy take off with the money and not come back, buy himself a decent dinner and keep all the wine for himself. He had the look of someone who knew how to take care of himself, all right.  His jeans, work shirt and heavy shoes were a lot newer than Del’s, whose clothes looked like they were about to rot off. Not that he cared anymore, but Del thought they smelled like it too.

At the shelter in Nashville, Bob had got hung with the name Normal Bob. He wasn't so damn normal, but he had the good luck to show up after Crazy Bob who got his instructions from a dog named Tick that nobody else could see. Mostly the dog told him to howl. So Bob became Normal Bob to tell him apart from Crazy Bob.

Normal Bob was going back to Atlanta so Del planned to tag along. Del had a little stash of money and Normal knew the city so it seemed like a good partnership.

Del laid out in his bedroll and put his head on his little bag of clothes and watched the puffy white clouds drift across the early evening sky. In a little while, the night would unzip its bag of tricks and spill the predators into the hundreds of pockets of darkness along this street of appetites, and by then Del hoped to be fed, drunk and sleeping unnoticed among the weeds.

Now that he'd got the weight off his legs, he noticed he was getting the shakes in his hands, but there wasn't nothing he could do about it till Bob got back with the wine. He lay like this about an hour, till twilight, when he heard a man approaching, looked up and saw Bob carrying a couple of sacks.

"I got us both a Chubby Decker Plate."

He handed Del a pint bottle. Del broke the seal, and took three or four gulps, and fought to keep them down. He didn't want to waste any of it.

"You going to eat anything with that?" Bob asked.

"First things first," Del said.

"You shouldn't have made this trip. It was too much for you," Bob said.

"Had to leave Nashville."

"It must have been big trouble," Bob said.

"No, I just wore out my welcome too many places. Life was getting too hard."

"Well, a lot of little trouble can be just as bad as big trouble," Bob said. "Tomorrow morning we can head up to St. Luke’s for breakfast. Talk to the guys there. See what's going on."

"I don't know if I can make it," Del said. "I don't think I'm going to be able to walk at all."

"I can call the Grady wagon then, they can take you to the hospital."

“I'm afraid they might have to cut my legs off."

Bob tried to change the subject.

"This place we're sitting is historic. It's the back end of the old Ponce de Leon Baseball Park. That magnolia tree would have been at dead center field. The Atlanta Crackers used to play here. I came to the games with my old man. They tore the place down when they built the new stadium for the Braves. Turned it into this parking lot."

"I never liked this place none," Del said.

"You been here then?"

"I lived in Atlanta a couple months when I was a kid. I came here with my father once," Del said. "What do they call that building across the street?"

"That would be the old Sears and Roebuck. It's got city offices now, so they call it City Hall East."

"I remember the Sears and Roebuck, you got of the trolley and walked across the street to the park."

"That's right, man, they still had the old electric trolleys when the Crackers played here."

"I never had no luck here. We shouldn't have stopped here."

"Hell, you were the one who wanted to stop, Del. You said your legs were bad. You never should have left Nashville with your legs like that."

"I know that, now," Del said. The memory of the old ball park pinned him to the ground like a stack of cement blocks on his chest.

A Note From the Editor
There is, in every city of some size, "a street of appetites" — a place where people with hungers congregate, a street where things happen in dark places. In Atlanta, The Bitter Southerner’s hometown, that street has always been Ponce de Leon Avenue. Ponce, as we call it, is home to the legendary Clermont Lounge, where strippers whose average age is 46.5 shake their moneymakers, and the Majestic Diner, which has been serving hangover prevention and cures 24/7 since 1929. Ponce always begs to be the setting of a novel. Back in 1997, an Atlanta writer named Fred Willard delivered a great one. “Down on Ponce” was hard-boiled crime fiction, solidly in the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. “Down on Ponce” permanently planted itself in my brain. I was 36 years old when it came out, and I’ve gone back to reread it several times. For a guy like me, who loves crime fiction written with verve and feistiness, “Down on Ponce” was just the ticket, particularly because I knew its setting like the back of my hand. But in the last decade or so, the literary world hasn't seen much of Fred Willard's work. Then a few weeks ago, out of the blue, Willard sent The Bitter Southerner a short story. This made me a happy guy — happier still because his story is set once again on Ponce, Atlanta's “street of appetites,” as Willard so aptly describes it here. You'll experience two Ponces in this story. One is the Ponce of the 1990s, when the kudzu-shrouded, long-unused railroad tracks that bisect the street were still the home of much nefarious activity. Today, those tracks are a pedestrian trail called the BeltLine. The other is the Ponce of the mid-20th century, when the Negro League Atlanta Black Crackers and the minor-league Atlanta Crackers shared Ponce de Leon Park, an old baseball field now long gone. Today, a Whole Foods sits about where center field was. A crime does occur in this story, and the writing is as blunt as the best crime fiction, but in “The Ghosts of Ponce de Leon Park,” Willard is now exploring different characters with different hungers — the homeless. We meet Bob and Del soon after they arrive in Atlanta, having come to the city after Del “just wore out my welcome too many places” in Nashville. Speaking of welcomes, we’re happy to welcome one of our favorites, Fred Willard, to the pages of The Bitter Southerner. — Chuck Reece
Repost from the Bitter Southerner

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